Mobile Games can’t get No Respect

Intro to Mobile Games

The first mobile game I remember being obsessed with was Snake on my Nokia phone. We were all obsessed with this one back in 2000-2001. Eat all the apples and have your snake grow, but don’t eat your body and die. Snake came free with my first phone when I started high school.

My mobile gaming experiences have always been with simple games: Angry Birds, Tetris, Hearthstone, Mario Run and some word and puzzle games. I haven’t spent too much time with longer, story-based mobile games. I have always left my larger gaming experiences to my consoles — with a few on my PC.

I’ve always looked at mobile games as a “less than” gaming experience — I feel most console/PC gamers feel that way. They’ve always been the backup plan for when I’m stuck in a waiting room or bored with no other option. When hearing the term “mobile game,” my mind jumps to terms like: ads, in-app purchases, micro-transactions, loot boxes, pay-to-win, pay-to-play, timed lockouts and other predatory practices (some of these are also used in many free-to-play console and PC games).

Predatory Games: Then & Now

In Jason Schreier’s new book, Press Reset (you can find my book preview here), he made a comparison between addictive mobile games to coin-operated arcade games, stating they are just the updated version of what arcade games used to be. They were all built to get people (mainly kids) to spend more and more money. The most successful arcade games were always the ones that you had to insert coins to continue playing after the shortest amount of time.

He also mentioned how many mobile game studios bring in psychologists who study addiction and use their expertise as an advantage. Games like Candy Crush Saga use the virtual “time out” when you’ve been playing for too long — unless you want to throw down some extra money to keep the game going.

The Value

Another problem with the mobile game market is that they are seen as “apps,” and most consumers aren’t willing to spend too much on an app. What’s the most you’ve spent on an app? And how many times have you spent that much on an app? Mobile games must therefore be sold at low prices (usually $5 or less) and/or be given away for FREE (leading to micro-transactions and more in-game purchases).

Console games can now cost up to $70, but if a mobile game is over $7 we expect a life-changing experience.


There’s also a big game cloning practice taking place in the mobile market. When one studio makes a game like Clash of Clans (a game that makes enough money to produce Super Bowl commercials), you know that other studios are going to come along and try to create their own version. Many times putting out carbon copies of the original game.

Here’s how I picture these meetings going:

EXEC: What makes [insert big money making game name] good? 

GAME DEV: Uh, I don’t really know? Is it good?

EXEC: No, like how does it make so much money?

GAME DEV: Oh, micro-transactions, ads, paywalls, loot boxes, other preda–

EXEC: Ok, do that!

Some game studios have switched over to making mobile games because That’s where the money is. Some have tried to translate their IP (intellectual property) to mobile as well as continue to make their current console titles. I believe these decisions usually come from the executive branch of these studios. The financiers want to see more money, so they instead shift to the mobile route.

New Horizons

Today, mobile games are much different. The mobile game market is still flooded with mostly garbage (but let’s face it, the Nintendo eShop launches an average of 1-3 good games each week while being loaded up with not so great games). We have now reached a point where some mobile games can even compete with games on console (and I’m not talking about Cloud gaming).

In the past few years I’ve seen a change in mobile. We’ve seen certain mobile games receive critical acclaim. Also, instead of only seeing simple console/PC games being ported to mobile, we have also seen some great mobile games get ported to consoles and PC.

The “Mobile Game of the Year” category during game award celebrations used to be for the “most downloaded/most played” game (it was sort of like the “reality show” part of the Emmys). Lately, we’ve seen some really great games from small indie teams creating great stories for mobile platforms. It’s all about knowing what works on the platform and putting together a compelling story of gameplay.

Apple Arcade is a mobile version of XBox’s Game Pass. It allows you to play mobile games on your iPhone, iPad and your TV (turning your Apple TV into a gaming console). By subscribing to Apple Arcade you can play over 180 ad-free games with no in-app purchases. We’ve seen things from ports of console games, special mobile versions of games and even some brand new mobile experiences.

From the Apple Arcade store.

Our phones and tablets are becoming more powerful each year. So many companies are attempting to create a cloud gaming platform (for every screen). It’s going to be interesting to see where not only mobile gaming, but also gaming on mobile devices goes in the future.

While the majority of mobile games are still garbage, teams have released many great games on mobile. I think it’s finally time to put that free trial of Apple Arcade to the test and try out some new mobile games. There are even some games that I didn’t buy on my Nintendo Switch knowing that they were on Apple Arcade.

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